Archive for category Dive Charter Captains
We were anchored in the lagoon at Middleton Reef (southern Coral Sea). Wally Muller had roped Coralita’s anchor to an antique ships anchor we’d placed on the sand in the lagoon ‘yesterday’.
Now it was time to check the anchor. I was joining deckhand Richard Weir for the inspection and would film it.
All dinghies were either out of the water or anchored on their own elsewhere. In other words, no rescue vessel available.
Coralita was swinging in a great arc in the very strong breeze. Easy to miss getting back aboard as a strong current was also running. No problems. All went well.
It was a cyclone called Colin. Stronger than the cyclone that had wrecked Darwin a few years before. This was 1975. The wreck of the Runic, (pictured above during a previous visit) nearby, was battered by the heavy seas with waves breaking over her – we saw from a distance.
Wally Muller in 1971; Wally Muller underwater with the ship wreck anchor which saved Coralita during a cyclone at Middleton Reef.
Divers, John M Harding (senior) and Roy Bisson (on right)
This was the longest voyage undertaken by the famous charter boat in 1971. Newly launched the boat was 79′ in length and had accommodation for 16 divers (later reduced to 12), plus a crew of four.
The lure for such a voyage was shell collecting, a search for the rare volute thatcheri. Half the charter cost was paid by shell collectors. I was sponsored by a tabloid newspaper to write and photograph five stories that could be serialized over one week.
Text written especially for divers would be published in Fathom No.6 issue. Art director and diver, Roy Bisson being on the voyage.
From San Francisco the late Dewey Bergman (Sea and Sea Travel) was scouting on this voyage for what would become regular parties of American divers and underwater cameramen. The world was about to discover diving Australian style. The future voyages would not involve so much traveling time.
Marion Reef was the new inshore destination, still in The Coral Sea and today almost unvisited due to fuel cost considerations.
The Chesterfield Reef trip was our most memorable. Near perfect weather and a good crew of professional divers. For further information, including names of shipwrecks at Chesterfield Reef, see Wikipedia.org
Roy Bisson swim fins (flippers) were filmed simultaneously by my movie camera and another by Richard Ibara. This was Chesterfield Reef at it’s best. Grey Reef sharks were territorial with these displays as they probably had not encountered divers before.
Lower picture: A very old, large starfish on a bommie outside Fitzroy Lagoon (Capricorn and Bunker Group)
**Beaver Cay, on or about 1983**
Captain Perry Harvey had a battle with marine park authorities over obtaining their permission (believe it or not) to remove coral destroying starfish from a vast patch of coral reef at Beaver Cay.
The reef was visited daily by his charter boat Friendship.
To sit by and watch the valuable coral reef (for tourism) being killed was ‘not on”.
Thousands of starfish were removed, before permission was finally granted.
The reef was saved, but only just.
Captain Perry Harvey was regularly interviewed in marine documentaries. The late Robert Raymond did extensive documentary film reporting and wrote a book on the subject.
Eventually budgets for starfish eradication by divers were granted.
Is the problem under control today? Global warming is the new buzz word.
It was the first black marlin caught at Cairns by Peter Bristow and his crew. Gordon Hallam alongside Peter. Both were beach fishermen at Point Lookout, Queensland beforehand.
After six-solid months of boat building Pete’s \\Avalon\\ was launched and so began his remarkable life on the sea. Japanese advertising agents named him \\The Old Man of the Sea\\ for a whiskey commercial.
We’ve touched on these subjects before. Briefly there were three young game-fishing skippers that went to Cairns and started an industry that became the talk of the world (of big game fishing).
The spin-off for Australia was it put Cairns, then a very sleepy fishing port, on the international tourist map.Large hotels eventually followed and hoards of tourists seeking access to the Great Barrier Reef.
Exact figures on how the catch rates went over the years is another story. During the 1970′s many one thousand pound (or larger) fish were caught and later, many released with tags.
Peter later moved to Pohnape (Fed States Micronesia) then on to the Portuguese island, Madeira, off the west African coast, where he has found a fisherman’s paradise, and a lifestyle most dream of.
Wally Muller (pictured on the surface) was a former pro fishermen who took-up diving. Very unusual. Most fishermen were too scared of sharks to enter the water – not Wally.
During the Belgian Expedition I clicked this shot. No details of where it was, most probably in The Swains Reefs. Wally was a master navigator of this region in the era before reliable charts were available.
On 2nd thoughts I now wonder if those unusual mounds of coral were part of an old shipwreck since covered with live coral?
Further north at Yonge Reef, near Lizard Island, I photographed French author Bernard Gorsky using his Hassleblad and underwater case – the first Hassleblad housing seen in Australia. It was 1967.
Wal later spewed his teeth overboard forcing Ron T. and I to do a search in 60 feet at Gannet Cay, without success of course.
My father had adventures in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as a young soldier during the war. However he often said the best trips of his life were aboard \\Coralita\\ especially this trip to the Chesterfield’s.
It was a three-day voyage at 10 knots from the Queensland coast. The charter was shared between professional sea shell collectors (seeking the rare \\volute thatcheri\\, which was found) and diving photographers like us.
I documented the expedition for ABC TV news and a Sydney morning newspaper which ran reports and pictures over five weekday issues in exchange for paying my fare, which was substantial in those times.
**Fathom** (TM) magazine number six ran a several page report.
We had a lot of anxious shark activity underwater. Interesting as the grey reef sharks were \\territorial\\ in that they protected home territory keenly, something that does not happen at regularly visited dive sites close to the coast these days.
Sharks are smart, they learn fast and have good memories.
Low sandy islands without trees and inhabited by sea birds, (gannet, frigate, tropic bird). Typical for many large islands in the Coral Sea of the western Pacific.
On the weather side (ocean side) of \\Great Detached Reef\\ we met this 10 kg trout that was completely fearless of us. Too remote a region to have been a feed-trained fish.
Some of these blue spot trout have \\ciguatera\\ poisoning. It’s not such a good idea to eat them anymore.
I wonder how many people in western Queensland got ill with \\ciguatera,\\ went to a local GP for treatment and were mis-diagnosed? It would take a very skilled doctor to recognize the symptoms in the 1960′s when professional spearmen and fishermen caught tons of this species at Saumarez Reef and throughout The Swains.
Not the nicest fish either, they will eat their own kind.
When you approach a wild one they may show teeth while finning slowly backwards away from you. Educated versions won’t allow anyone to get close easily.
Nineteen years after he took us to Saumarez Reef, now the owner of one of the world’s “best by reputation” dive boats TSMV \\Coralita\\.
Wally collected sea shells as a hobby, rare and valuable ones found only at certain reefs in The Coral Sea.
Shells are nocturnal feeders. With his failing eyesight, a bright underwater movie light did the trick. The \\voluta perplicata\\ was common out there. A single shell might be worth a few hundred dollars to a collector.
Another volute \\(thatcheri)\\ from Chesterfield Reef (French Coral Sea territory) was equally valuable.
Live shells were collected. The dead shell loses luster.
Night diving in coral lagoons is not without risk of meeting a tiger shark, although more tigers seem to be on the Great Barrier Reef than The Coral Sea, perhaps due to long line fishing for marlin and tuna with sharks being the by-catch.
The last information I had was that night diving off Cairns on dive boats has ceased due to tiger sharks becoming too friendly.
**The Great Barrier Reef** was incorrectly named. It is not a single reef, it is 2 500 or more **reefs.**
At the southern section the maze of reefs has a common name \\The Swain Reefs.\\
Beyond the outside edge of \\The Great Barrier Reefs\\ is **The Coral Sea** – a crystal clear blue frontier where few people venture – especially today with high fuel prices.
Saumarez Reef is therefore not a part of \\The Great Barrier Reefs.\\ In many respects, especially water clarity and pelagic fish it is superior.
Visibility underwater is twice as clear as that commonly seen on the outside edge of the GBR, around 70 meters.
Middleton Reef has a shallow lagoon especially for a big charter vessel such as \\Coralita\\. In ideal circumstances our captain would look for 20 meters of depth and as much anchor chain length as possible to perform like a spring with it’s weight.
Middleton was shallow. There was no point in trying to out-run the cyclone approaching. Nowhere else to hide.
The shipwreck anchor was found by **John Sumner** and salvaged for the purpose of helping to hold the charter boat.
The anchor remains in the lagoon today, an asset for cruising small boats.
As seen from \\Coralita\\ during her first visit in 1971. We encountered cyclone \\Colin\\ on this voyage which departed Port Macquarie and returned to Coffs Harbour due to high seas along the coast.
With the cyclone approaching fast,** Captain Wally Muller** took precautions with his anchorage. An antique iron anchor was removed from a nearby unknown shipwreck and transfered to the sandy lagoon floor where his own anchor and chain were lashed to it.
Even so, during the height of the cyclone which passed nearby, \\Coralita\\ dragged both anchors 150 meters.
**Two years later we returned to Middleton Reef and had a 2nd and even more powerful cyclone catch us. The same admiralty style iron anchor came in handy as \\Cyclone Ulan\\ passed by with a whipped up huge sea that tore the stern from \\Runic\\ as waves broke higher than the ships funnel.**
Captain Wally later told me he feared for \\Coralita\\and without the cool heads of Ron T. and I (?) the outcome would have been very serious. Maybe my contribution was hearing the hull crunching against the tips of a staghorn type coral on a bommie below, during the wide swing of the ship at anchor.
I didn’t inquire fully as to what he had implied.